This interview is over 1 year old and may no longer be up to date or reflect the interviewee/interviewees’ positions
by Dawn Thompson, Head Editor, INALJ Ohio
Seed Sharing Library-Akron-Summit County Public Library
An interview with Michele McNeal of the Akron-Summit County Public Library
1. How did the idea of the Seed Sharing Library come about? When did the library get started? Where did the idea come from? Did you have any type of model to follow or any ideas for how to get it started? Was there any resistance to the program?
Our Seed Sharing Library was proposed by a long time customer and avid gardener who mentioned to one of our librarians that he’d heard about such programs in other parts of the country. This conversation was shared with the Science & Technology division staff and I agreed that it was a great idea and began to research how we could make it happen. This was at the very beginning of February of this year. We opened the Seed Sharing Library at the beginning of May.
In looking for models upon which to base our project, we examined the Pima County Public Library, (http://www.library.pima.gov/seed-library/), The San Franciso Seed Library (http://sites.google.com/site/sfseedlibrary/), and Richmond Grows Seed Lending Library (http://www.richmondgrowsseeds.org/). The Richmond Grows site in particular has instructions and downloadable forms to help you get your own seed library started. We also attended a webinar presented by the Center for the New American Dream (http://www.newdream.org/) on how to start a seed library. Another new resource is this article from Shareable Community: How to Create Your Own Seed Lending Library (http://www.shareable.net/blog/how-to-create-your-own-seed-lending-library).
I was lucky to have great support for this idea from both my supervisor and colleagues. Several of our staff members have donated seeds and volunteered help with the processes of packaging and labeling.
2. Has there been a lot of community interest? What are the most popular seeds? What seeds are patrons asking for that you don’t have on hand? What kind of seed donations are you receiving? Any you really want for the collection? Where do the seeds come from, especially (as it mentions in the article) since you are using heirloom seeds? Can I ask what the cost has been to get the program started? Is gardening big in your community?
Happily we’ve had a great response from our community to the Seed Sharing Library. Our first “check out” happened within 2 hours of me putting up the signs and stocking the drawers. I will mention that we did a “soft opening” without any sort of publicity for a couple of weeks to work out any bugs in our “check out” process. The first public announcement of the library was on May 28 in a blog post on our division blog (http://ascplst.akronlibrary.org/2013/05/28/stop-in-and-visit-our-new-seed-sharing-library/), this post received the highest number of “likes” and “shares” our blog has ever seen. About the same time, an article appeared in our library newsletter (http://www.akronlibrary.org/shelflife/Shelf%20Life_Summer%202013.pdf), both of these coincided with a great increase in attention to the Seed Sharing Library. This past week we were contacted by our local paper which is going to do a story on the Seed Sharing Library this coming Saturday.
While I haven’t yet collated all the data, it appears that Sunflowers, Corn, Beans, and Peas have been among the most popular seeds to check out. We received donations from two seed companies: High Mowing Seeds (http://www.highmowingseeds.com/) and Baker Creek Seeds (http://www.rareseeds.com/). I’ve focused on providing heirloom vegetable seeds that can be saved and used next year, but we have received some donations of hybrid varieties, and are available in the library. I’m anxious to see what type of seeds people check out this year to help us plan for next year.
We were lucky to have an unused card catalog unit available in the building which we were able to repurpose for the Seed Library. For the first 800 seed packets we invested about $70.00 in making the seed packets (for color copies, rolls of tape, and sticker seals), along with many hours of staff time cutting out, folding, repackaging, and labeling the seeds. For the next round of donations, we purchased small envelopes (about $20 for 500) which greatly increased the efficiency of the process. These envelopes still need to be packaged and labeled by hand (about $10 for 500 labels).
Our main library is in an urban setting, which contains several so called “food deserts” where healthy food is difficult or expensive to find commercially. Several community organizations are working to encourage our residents to grow their own food. By partnering with these organizations we’re seeing a segment of our customer base that isn’t represented by the regular city garden clubs (of which there are several).
3. What kind of background does one need in order to work in a seed lending library? Do you find that you are becoming much more interested in gardening or was this already a hobby of yours?
I’m sure a really great Seed Librarian would be one of the local “master gardeners” and a fully trained member of Seed Savers Exchange, but I can’t boast any such credentials. I have had a garden for several years, but don’t consider myself any sort of expert. I’m hoping to become more knowledgeable as we provide some of the educational programs we have planned on gardening and seed saving.
4. What are the policies and procedures relating directly to the seed lending library?
I’m attaching the current version of our borrowing instructions.
5. What is your favorite book? What is your favorite book related to your field of seed librarianship?
Only one? Sigh! I’m a huge fantasy fan so Ursula Le Guin’s Tombs of Atuan (part of the Earthsea Trilogy.) But my favorite book related to this project is “The Garden Primer” by Barbara Damrosch. It has a wonderful index by both common and scientific name of each plant with all the needed growing information about soil, watering, sunlight, etc. My favorite book about Seed Saving is “The Complete Guide to Saving Seeds : 322 Vegetables, Herbs, Flowers, Fruits, Trees, and Shrubs by Robert Gough and Cheryl Moore-Gough. This has the specific procedures for saving and propagating each type of seed.
6. Were you looking for a unique position when you became the ‘seed’
librarian? Tell us a little bit more about what a ‘seed’ librarian does.
I returned to the Science & Technology department from a stint in IT shortly before the idea of the Seed Library was broached, so I was definitely ripe for a new project. Most of my work related to the seed library involves organizing and packaging the donated seeds. The start up process also included quite a bit of research and problem solving as to the best suite of procedures and the organization of the seeds.
7. Any websites, blogs, or feeds we should be following?
In addition to the sites mentioned above, definitely check out The Seed Savers Exchange (http://www.seedsavers.org/), and the online Vegetable Seed Saving Handbook http://howtosaveseeds.com/). Also, contact your local garden clubs, state/county extension offices, and “Let’s Grow” organizations.
8. Any job hunting advice?
Keep sending out those resumes, and try not to become discouraged. I hunted for a professional job for more than 6 months when I got my MLS in 1993 – and that was before the massive budget cuts we’ve seen in libraries over the past 10 years.